SB 1391 – Juvenile Justice Reform

The California State Senate has taken yet another step in amending and refining our juvenile justice system.  Many people don’t realize the vast differences between adult criminal court and the juvenile delinquency system.  The juvenile system is set up to rehabilitate and reform minors rather than punish them.  It is with this in mind that the senate is trying to strip the District Attorney’s power to treat juveniles like adults and punish them as if they were.  SB 1391 repeals the authority of a district attorney to make a motion to transfer a minor from juvenile court to a court of criminal jurisdiction (adult court) in a case in which a minor committed a serious offense when he or she was 14 or 15 years old.  This most commonly happens in a murder cases.  The only exception to this new rule would be if the crime was committed when the individual was 14 or 15, but was not apprehended until the juvenile court lost jurisdiction over him or her (at age 21).

The specified serious offenses at issue are:

a) Murder;
b) Arson;
c) Robbery;
d) Rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm;
e) Sodomy by force, violence, duress, menace, or threat of great bodily harm;
f) A lewd or lascivious act;
g) Oral copulation by force, violence, duress, menace, or threat of great bodily harm;
h) An offense specified in Penal Code Section 289 subdivision (a);
i) Attempted murder;
j) Assault with a firearm or destructive device;
k) Assault by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury;
l) Discharge of a firearm into an inhabited or occupied building;
m) Burglary;
n) Carjacking;
o) Assault with intent to commit rape or sodomy;
p) Personally using a firearm in the commission of a felony or attempted felony;
q) A felony offense in which the minor personally used a weapon;
r) Using force the threat of force or violence, on a witness or victim or any third person or the property of any victim, witness, or any third person;
s) Manufacturing, compounding, or selling one-half ounce or more of a salt or solution of a controlled substance;
t) A violent felony, as specified;
u) Escape, by the use of force or violence, from a county juvenile hall, home, ranch, camp, or forestry camp, if great bodily injury is intentionally inflicted upon an employee of the juvenile facility during the commission of the escape;
v) Torture;
w) Aggravated mayhem;
x) Carjacking, while armed with a dangerous or deadly weapon;
y) Kidnapping;
z) Discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle at another person;
aa) Exploding a device with an intent to commit murder
bb) Voluntary manslaughter.

So what does this new law really mean?  The practical effect of SB 1391 is that children ages 14 and 15 will no longer be tried as adults in criminal court and subsequently sent to adult prison.  Back in the 1990s, it was accepted science that people were fully developed at age 14.  Now, research and cognitive science have proven that children and youth who commit crimes are very capable of change.

The author of this bill stated:

“We know that sending youth to adult prison does not help our youth and it does not make our communities safer. In fact, this practice has disproportionately affected Black and Latino youth. Just over the past 10 years, 50% of Latino youth and 60% of Black youth were sent to adult court after a transfer hearing, compared to only 10% of White youth for similar crimes. Some youth sentenced to adult prison may have committed very serious crimes, but they are not the majority. In 2015, about 72% of youth under age 16 were sent to adult court for crimes such as burglary, robbery and assault.

“The youngest teens in our justice system need to be held accountable for their actions, but they also require age-appropriate services and programs to rehabilitate and grow into healthy, mature adults. Keeping youth in the juvenile system does not mean they get off with a slap on the wrist. This bill still maintains that youth who commit serious crimes deserve punishment. Keeping youth in the juvenile justice system means they will be punished, but they will also be required to be in treatment, counseling, and rehabilitative programming and education. People in the adult system are not required to be in rehabilitative programs, and many young people sentenced to adult prison don’t even have access to services until further into their sentences, if at all. Youth who commit crimes fare much better in the juvenile system than in the adult system because they benefit from the rehabilitative services, and are also less likely to commit crimes in the future than youth in the adult system. This bill prioritizes public safety by providing age-appropriate resources and education to vulnerable youth.”